By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent Worthy News
(Worthy News) - A prominent Catholic bishop in Nigeria, kidnapped on December 27, has been released unharmed in an “answer to prayers,” his church said Saturday.
The Archdiocese of Owerri, in southeastern Nigeria, said Bishop Moses Chikwe and his driver, Ndubuisi Robert, had been released by their abductors “unhurt and without ransom.”
In separate remarks, the Archbishop of Owerri thanked Pope Francis for mentioning their captivity and “praying for their release” at his New Year Angelus message at the Vatican. The prayer came “just hours before their release,” added the archbishop Anthony J.V. Obinna in a statement monitored by Worthy News.
Chikwe, the auxiliary bishop of Owerri archdiocese, was kidnapped by unidentified gunmen late Sunday, December 27, in Owerri, the capital of Imo State in southeastern Nigeria.
Nigerian media reported that the bishop was kidnapped alongside his driver in his official car left behind at a roundabout.
The bishops of Nigeria had urged prayer for the 53-year-old Chikwe’s safety and release. American Catholics in southern California had also been praying for the bishop’s safe return, Catholic Church sources said. Chikwe served for several years as a priest in the Diocese of San Diego, before returning to his native country.
Bishop Chikwe’s abduction is the latest in a series of kidnappings targeting clergy in Nigeria. However, previous abductions have involved priests and seminarians, not bishops, according to the Catholic News Agency (CNA).
Earlier this month, the U.S. State Department listed Nigeria among the worst countries for religious freedom, describing the West African nation as a “country of particular concern (CPC).”
The CPC designation goes to nations where Washington noticed the worst violations of religious freedom. Other nations on the list include China, North Korea, and Saudi Arabia.
Kidnappings of church leaders also come amid violent attacks against devoted Christians by Islamic militants in the African nation.
On Christmas Eve, Christians in northeast Nigeria plunged into mourning after militants killed at least 11 people Worthy News reported at the time citing several sources. Fighters of terror group Boko Karam Haram began shooting indiscriminately in the mainly Christian village of Pemi in the northeastern state of Borno, witnesses said.
The attackers also burnt a church, abducted a priest, and stole medical supplies from a hospital, before setting it on fire, according to Vatican sources and residents.